December 3, 2014
- as seen by -George Schaller
I spotted the snow leopard on a rocky slope high in the Hindu Kush mountains of northern Pakistan on a December day in 1970. She had a kill, a domestic goat, and at the entrance to a rock cleft nearby were her two small cubs.
Slowly I climbed toward her. She glided uphill, a fleeting grey shadow, and ducked behind a boulder, only the top of her head visible as she watched me with pale eyes. I sat down near and below her, and soon she resumed her meal.
Toward dusk, snow began to swirl around us. I unrolled my sleeping bag, and remained there during the long, bitter night, the snow leopard and I bound to each other by the darkness, but this mountain realm belonging wholly to her, this phantom cat, so seldom glimpsed. I descended with daylight, hungry and cold yet elated beyond measure.
Since then, I have dedicated myself to helping snow leopards endure in several of the twelve countries where they occur, from Tajikistan and Mongolia to China, where I join my local colleagues annually on the Tibetan Plateau.
Contax and 300 mm lens